The ethical and moral question of how valuable is collateral damage plays out in this intense and thought-provoking war of wills between dual governments as they question the damage that several dangerous terrorists can unleash on the world in the superb thriller, Eye in the Sky.
The controversy of the drone program, initially popularized by President George W. Bush and later continued by current President Barack Obama, plays out of this story on multiple fronts. In a bunker in Sussex, Colonel Powell (Helen Mirren) commands a mission to capture several suspected terrorists holed up in a safehouse in Kenya. There is also Air Force pilot, Steve Watts (Aaron Paul), who controls the Reaper drone with aerial surveillance in Nevada, while undercover field operative, Jam Farah (Barkhad Abdi) uses short-range video bugs for ground intel.
When the intel shows that not only are three of the five most wanted terrorists are in the same room, and are planning to launch suicide attacks, Colonel Powell changes the mission from capture to kill, but is frustrated that she can’t get legal approval. She appeals to her superior, Lt. General Benson (Rickman) in London and members of the UK government, asking for their authorization.
As the drama plays out inside the safe house, everyone is on the clock to make a decision that is all about saving a life, ironically by taking one. British officials don’t want to be seen as the bad guys and would much rather capture the terrorists and put them on trial, but the two senior military officials push to eliminate their targets to save innocent lives that may perish if they somehow avoid capture.
After a decision is made, another wrinkle arises that puts the life of a young girl in danger which facilitates the discussion is what is the worth of one life if it can save countless others? How much collateral damage are we willing to live with to keep the larger population safe?
Hibbert’s screenplay poses these difficult questions and structures a taunt, tight argument that is articulated brilliantly by all parties. Each person’s moral compass is on display as they each understand that no matter what decision is made, it will not be unanimous and will lead to the loss of life, intentionally or unintentionally.
The cast is fantastic, anchored by Mirren who is like a hungry dog with a bone, refusing to relent and determined to put down terror, no matter the cost. In one of his final roles, Rickman is masterful as senior military official who reasons with government officials to support Mirren’s objective. Rickman once again demonstrates his ability to enhance every role he played and he is solid, yet again. As the conscious of the film, Paul gives the story much-needed emotional resonance as he refuses to comply with Powell’s orders, even to the point of defiance.
Hood, whose film, Tsotsi, won a Best Foreign-Language Oscar in 2005, once again displays his adept handling of complex material without losing the audience in the process. His storytelling is top-notch, smart and tragic, emotionally drawing you in so that you care about the outcome of every character in the story.
Eye in the Sky is a dynamic, yet poignant thinking man’s thriller that puts the audience in the difficult position that our leaders have struggled with since the dawn of time: how far would we go to protect our liberty? God only knows!